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TMCNet:  'Virtual office' space gains traction for telecommuters in Decorah [Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa :: ]

[January 30, 2014]

'Virtual office' space gains traction for telecommuters in Decorah [Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa :: ]

(Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 30--DECORAH -- Ideas wait for no one, Ross Hadley says.

There are entrepreneurs who want to get on with launching their own enterprises but who also don't have the work space they need to grow their plan into profit.

Ross Hadley has launched Open Decorah as a possible solution.

Open Decorah offers work space, including computers and meeting rooms, for entrepreneurs who want to develop their own enterprises but don't have their own space to do so.

Hadley has six offices on the second floor of a retail building he owns, at 128 1/2 W. Water St. in downtown Decorah. There are accommodations for a conference room, a "co-working room," and a "quiet room" for teleconferences.


Users also have access to the building's third floor, which has a kitchenette area.

"We have a sleeping room, so an out-of-town client can rent a bedroom up there, as well," Hadley said.

The target market for the building is telecommuters, of which there is no shortage in Decorah, Hadley said.

"Decorah itself has brought a lot of telecommuters into town," he said.

Those telecommuters are all looking for space, and they find it, through Hadley or elsewhere.

It's a trend, they say.

One of them is Eric Sovern, sales manager for Surly Bikes, an offshoot of Bloomington, Minn.-based Quality Bicycle Products that focuses on hybrid cycles for snow, trail or off-road biking.

Sovern rents space in downtown Decorah, a couple of doors up from Hadley's operation.

He and his wife, Shannon, decided they wanted to live in a small town, after having resided in the Twin Cities for 15 years.

"We wanted to move to a smaller town with a better sense of community, and there are few places in the world that fit that like Decorah," Sovern said. "There are 20 miles of mountain trails in Decorah, which you wouldn't often think of if you're picturing Iowa. It's also a community with a college (Luther College) and a food co-op, plus, I'm on the volunteer fire department." More importantly, Sovern said, he can do his job remotely.

"All I need is a phone line and an Internet connection, but there are also printing facilities and conference lines," he said.

It's also helpful to share workspace with other telecommuters, he said.

Hadley said those ideas support his concept for Open Decorah.

"Open Decorah is a co-working space that I've created downtown Decorah to facilitate a collaborative working environment for telecommuters that need a project space but don't necessarily need a full-time office space," Hadley said.

Hadley opened the space in July.

"We have quite a few salespeople here, anad we've got some other people who do graphic design, and they can be anywhere to do it," he said. "More and more, people who can live anywhere choose to live here because of the quality of life. Open Deocrah is just the icing on the cake, if you will, because it's a place you can go and work." It's also a business that fits Decorah ideally, said Randy Uhl, director of Winneshiek County Development Inc.

"The new business fits in well with the Winneshiek County Development, Inc. marketing strategy that focuses on attracting individuals capable of running their own businesses from any location, or working for an employer but from a location of their choice," Uhl said. "We've worked to get young workers who select Winneshiek County because of the quality of life here, and Open Decorah is another great tool in that recruitment effort. Open Decorah is plowing new ground and may be the first of a good number of similar business relationships in Decorah and Winneshiek County." Co-working space is not a new concept; there are such spaces across the Cedar Valley, including Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

Hadley said he saw a need for such space in Decorah and jumped on the opportunity, since he already had space available.

He got together with Uhl, as well as the Decorah-based Corbin Group, a business-development consulting firm, to develop his idea.

"They saw a need for it," he said.

Hadley said his space, when it's fully developed, will be able to accommodate 20-25 people a day. Currently, there are two entrepreneurs regularly using space at Open Decorah, but more are likely to come, Hadley said.

"We've got 200 'likes' on Facebook," he said.

An advantage to occupying temporary space is that there are no requirements to be there day after day, Hadley said.

"People will change any given day," he said. "The alternative is a coffee shop or the library, because of Internet access, and those have their own drawbacks." Hadley recently won $2,500 in Winneshiek County Economic Development's Biz Booster Challenge.

Hadley said he invested the money in some software that handles reservations for space.

"Open Decorah is a good idea because you have that exposure to other people," Sovern said. " I'm sharing a space with somebody who does something entirely different than I do." Local telecommuters get together every Friday afternoon. It's called " Co-Working Fridays." "Sounds better than 'Get Drunk Fridays,' Sovern said, laughing.

Then, he turned serious.

"Honestly, it's just a place where a couple of real movers and shakers, people that are starting businesses and other entrepreneurs are looking for the next thing and how to network with people," Sovern said. "This is a place where people can get together and talk about the specific challenges of work we do." The group usually includes about a dozen attendees, but it has drawn upwards of 20, Sovern said.

Indeed, Hadley said, the weekly meeting was the inspiration he needed for Open Decorah.

"We had people talking over what they're doing over a couple of beers," he said. " I had this space I was going to turn into apartments, but it turned out well to turn it into working space instead." More information is available at www.opendecorah.com. The company also has a Facebook page.

___ (c)2014 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at www.wcfcourier.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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